What I like most about my job is to play the mechanic meaning the pre-study and the integration part of the project. I have the big pieces and the challenge is how to make them fit together, this is exciting! My job is very diverse: I play a role in every step of product development and it is pleasing to see the whole project and not just a small part of it. Mechanical engineering is the backbone of R&D. I interact with many different players: suppliers, hardware, software, production, logistics, support, marketing etc… it is very rewarding.
Our mechanical engineers are involved at every step of product development. They are the people who will make sure that all the pieces designed for the product will fit together precisely and will work perfectly.
Drawing the prototype
They start the project by designing the initial architecture of the new tool, based on the defined customers’ needs. The first step is to draw the prototype. In order to do this, the mechanical engineers will find both existing solutions and create new ones in order to assemble together different pieces to make a product that corresponds to the brief. They will then propose different solutions on paper and test them. Sometimes what is on paper does not come out exactly as planned so the solution is modified. Finding the right balance between cost and time constraints, it is a real challenge.
The second step in the process is product design. Our mechanical engineers put feasibility first: will the proposed product work in the real world? A detailed analysis is done to identify which existing parts can be used for the project as well as which new parts need to be created. Then a design is proposed, taking into account broader parameters such as end user working conditions, applied standards and project objectives. The designs also go through the following major checks:
FMEA: Failure Mode and Effects Analysis
Here our mechanical engineers analyze all the potential risks of product failure and define the necessary check points to avoid any issues actually arising.
The objective of this analysis is to make sure that the final product design can be industrialized and that, at the end of the production process, the product will fulfill all requirements. During the product development stage, our mechanical engineers work hard to reduce the likelihood of issues arising during production. For example:
they try to minimize the numbers of screws and wires
they make sure that wires have enough space to run and not to be worn out
they use simulation testing to identify where pieces could break and need to be reinforced
Together with our Engineering Support Department, they analyze lessons learned previously in order to anticipate and integrate any valuable feedback into the new product
they make sure the company logos and other communication requirements such as safety information, will fit
Once design feasibility is confirmed, we need to confirm that the cost is acceptable. Anticipation is key here in order to bring the project to life in a timely fashion. If we end up with a solution that is too expensive, it is too late to start over so cost control forms a continuous part of product development.
Once they are certain that we have a feasible product that meets time and cost constraints, our mechanical engineers go on to the next phase: the blueprints. This is a major task that requires many checks and attention to detail. If one change is required after the blueprints have been produced, then every person involved in the product (including R&D, logistics, production etc.) is informed and must validate that this change is possible and will not impact them.
Changes made after the launch of the product can be particularly onerous and lead to delays or recalls This is the reason why we do several field tests prior to our product launches so that we eliminate the risk of having to modify the product later on. Our customers can therefore be confident that a new product from Chicago Pneumatic will work reliably from the outset.
Once the blueprints are validated, our mechanical engineers start production of the metal pieces and plastic molds. Even today, plastic injection can be somewhat hard to predict, so we test the prototype once more at this stage to pick up any discrepancies.